Who's This? -- An attempt to explain what's going on inside my identity.

Vernon Chi (AKA Leandra Vicci),
18 December 1998

 An essay written in response to a question posed in email to me from an old friend:

> This however brings me to an area of difficulty, since in a sense it is only
> the constructed self whom I have known, and not the emerging self. So I know
> I am relating only to who you have been and not to who you are or are
> becoming, which means I can't be relating very well to you. I can't help
> feeling that perhaps I don't know you, the real you, very well at all. This
> is where I could use some help and understanding. How much of the old you is
> in the new you, or will be, or will likely be, as you are still in
> transition. This is where I experience confusion, and I would think you
> might as well. But I don't think you could be as confused about this as I am!

Your perception of ambiguity is amazingly astute. You are correct that I am far from confident of who I presently am. At a fundamental level, it's not confusion exactly, it's discovery, with a healthy suspension of prejudice about the details of what I should or will become. I do have a fairly clear notion in the abstract of what I am and hope to be; but abstractions are theoretical, and reality has a habit of surprising you in ways you would never anticipate. I do not pretend to entirely understand what I am today nor can I predict what I will be at some future time; the best I can do is to remain sensitive and learn from experience as I go. Maybe in a year or so I shall be able to give you a reasonable retrospective.

At a more superficial level, there is substantial confusion in my life. This is because I believe my professional situation can not tolerate a gender dislocation at this time, so I have to hold in abeyance any plan to come out to my professional colleagues and associates for a while. The immediate consequence is I live a dual life, Vern in male persona at work, and Leandra as preferred self otherwise. As a side note, Ina absolutely despises the name "Leandra", so I go by the nickname "Lea" as easily, which she is becoming used to. The confusion lies in my daily exchange of social presentation, which would be severely conflicted if not impossible without simultaneously exchanging my inner self-identification. It makes it exceedingly difficult to remember who I am at any given time. Since, as you have recognized, there is substantial divergence developing between "the constructed self" and "the emerging self," this is not likely to become much better soon.

But my inner confusion aside, let me address your concern, "I can't help feeling that perhaps I don't know you, the real you, very well at all." Ina has expressed a similar apprehension as, "It's like tending the death of a very dear loved one while learning to live with a total stranger." Ina's bewilderment was a bellwether prompting me to grapple with this, and to recognize and empathize with the uncertainty and ambivalence that is likely to arise for many of Vern's dearly valued old friends. Consequently, I have had time to consider how to explain both the constancy and the distinctions of self, as I understand them. So here's the picture, as best I am able to describe.

The early subtle difference between Vern and Lea has been growing more distinct as time goes by. Picture the image of oil and water shaken together to make a froth of turmoil, neither oil nor water, yet of both, inexorably driven to sort itself out. Imagine the water settling, heavier downward, into the Vern of the past, and the oil rising lightly into the Lea of the future. The oil and water represent those gendered aspects of self that color my way of seeing and reacting to my world. The old Vern was logical and stoic. The new Lea is more sensual and emotional. To Vern all facts were physically measurable and objectively verifiable, while Lea perceives deeper truths she can only describe, not prove. Vern gloried in the sweeping grandeur of the universe; Lea delights in the wonder and beauties of the minutiae of here and now. The list seems endless, but there is a common thread: it's how I relate and react to my world, past, present, and future.

Yet Vern and Lea are the yang and yin of the same being. They are like the head and tail faces of the same coin. Each face presents its own image, and provides a connection between the coin and the world. Picture these connections to be the head side, wet with water and the tail, lubricated by oil. These connections form the filters through which the coin relates to its world: yang and yin in their very makeup, yet both embracing the same inner being. Thus Vern and Lea identically share a core identity. Lea knows more intimately than any other the thrill of Vern's first wild solo ride on an AJS motorcycle, setting foot on the remote scientific outpost of Kerguelen Island, acid trips of the '60s, and the invention of a faster-than-light technology for computer clocks. Lea is privileged to share all of Vern's past camaraderie's with mountaineers, hippies, sailors and scientists; and all of those joys of discovery and adventure that Vern experienced with them. All the social and cultural experiences, the adventures, the tribulations, the inspirations and disappointments of my past that contribute to my inner being are a reality for both Vern and Lea. In this respect, we are one and the same.

Yet in the same way the oil and water color how the being interacts with its universe, so do they modulate how it perceives itself. In this respect, I am unable to directly perceive the dichotomy between Vern and Lea, yet I do recognize that how I relate to myself -- this inner being -- is evolving. I find my emotional reactions to remembered past events are sometimes rather different than they used to be, although seemingly not by much. This evolution may be the most difficult effect for me to track and understand. At least one aspect of me that seems refractory to change, however, is the desire to know about and understand it all, categorize and organize what it means, and to learn and grow from the experience.

> I suspect I am not alone in this confusion among those who have known you
> well and to whom you have disclosed your situation, and this confusion
> experienced by others about you may be the most difficult part of your process.

I take your advice in this matter most seriously. I do hope I have been able to provide substantial insight through my sorry allegorical attempt above. Actually, I want to thank you for providing me the impetus to write it all down. I have invested an enormous amount of thought on it, but having to express it in terms hopefully sensible to others has forced me to further clarify my own thoughts, as well as to produce an answer I can share with others.

Permission to copy only in its entirety is hereby granted strictly for non-commercial purposes.
Copyright © 18 December 1998, Vernon L. Chi